Authors: Sandra Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense
movie. But the new wore off hours ago. They've
given the same answers to the same questions several
times over, so now they're getting surly. We're not
getting much out of them except a lot of bellyaching
about why they can't leave."
"I find it hard to believe—"
"Who invited you, anyway?" Collins fired at Steffi
when she interrupted again.
"That out of all those people," she said, speaking
over him, "somebody didn't see something."
Smilow held up his hand to squelch a full-fledged
quarrel between his discouraged detective and the
outspoken prosecutor. "Okay, you two. We're all
tired. Steffi, I see no reason for you to hang around.
When we've got something, you'll be notified."
"Fat chance." She folded her arms across her chest
and glared defiantly at Collins. "I'm staying."
Reluctantly, Smilow gave the go-ahead for the
hotel guests to be allowed to return to their rooms. He
then assembled his detectives in one of the meeting
rooms on the mezzanine level and ordered pizzas to
be delivered. While they decimated the pizzas, he reviewed
the scanty amount of information they had
gleaned after hours of exhaustive interrogation.
"Pettijohn had a massage in the spa?" he asked, reviewing
"Yeah." One of the detectives swallowed a large
mouthful of pizza. "Right after he got here."
"Did you question the masseur?"
The man nodded. "Said Pettijohn asked for the
deluxe massage, a full ninety minutes. Pettijohn
showered in the locker room, that's why the bathroom
in the suite was dry."
"Was this guy suspicious?"
"Not that I could see," the detective mumbled
around another bite. "Hired from a spa in California.
New to Charleston. Met Pettijohn for the first time
Smilow studied the hastily compiled breakdown
of registered guests. All appeared above suspicion.
All claimed never to have met Lute Pettijohn, although
a few knew of him through the media blitz
given the opening of Charles Towne Plaza a few
Most were just plain folks on vacation with their
families. Three couples were honeymooning. Several
others pretended to be, when it was obvious that they
were secret lovers on an illicit weekend getaway to a
romantic city. These answered the detectives' questions
nervously, but not because they were guilty of
murder, only adultery.
All but three rooms on the fourth floor were occupied
by a group of lady schoolteachers from Florida.
Two suites were overfilled with a boys' basketball
team who had graduated high school in the spring
and were having one last fling together before scattering
to their respective universities. Their only
crime was underage drinking. To the consternation of
his buddies, one voluntarily turned over a nickel bag
of marijuana to the interrogating officer.
The consensus was that if Lute Pettijohn hadn't
been murdered the previous afternoon, it would have
been a routine summer Saturday.
"Long, hot, and sticky," remarked one of the detectives,
"You talking about the day, or my dick?" another
"What about the security video?" Smilow asked,
bringing the banter to a halt. The detectives smirked
at what was obviously an inside joke. "What?"
"You want to see it?" Collins asked.
"Is there something to see?"
After another round of snickers, Collins suggested
that Smilow take a look, and even invited Steffi to
watch the video with them. "You might learn something,"
he said to her.
Smilow and Steffi followed the detectives across
the wide mezzanine lobby and into one of the smaller
conference rooms, where a VCR machine was cued
up and ready to play on a color monitor.
With unnecessary fanfare, Collins introduced the
video. "At first the guy monitoring the security cameras
yesterday afternoon told me that the video from
the camera on that floor had been misplaced."
Smilow knew from experience that surveillance
cameras were usually attached to time-lapse
recorders that exposed one frame of video every five
to ten seconds, depending on the user's discretion.
That's why they appeared jumpy when replayed.
Typically they recorded for days before automatically
"What was the tape doing out of the machine?
Aren't the tapes generally left in the recorders and recycled
unless there's a need to view them?"
"That was my first tip-off that he was lying,"
Collins said. "So I kept after him. Finally he coughed
up this video. Ready?"
Getting a nod from Smilow, he pushed the play
button on the VCR. Even if there had been no accompanying
video, the sound track was unmistakably
that of a triple-X-rated film. The sighs and moans
were background for a grainy moving picture of a
couple engaged in a sexual act.
"This scene runs for about fifteen minutes,"
Collins explained. "After the come shot, it switches
to two broads in a bathtub getting each other off.
Then it's got your basic domination scene with--"
"I get it," Smilow snapped. "Turn it off." He ignored
the boos and hisses from the other men in the
room. "Sorry, Steffi."
"Don't be. Detective Collins's little joke at my expense
merely supports my theory that the phrase 'adult male' is a contradiction in terms."
The other men laughed, but Collins harrumphed,
unfazed by the put-down. "Here's the kicker," he told
them. "Pettijohn's boast about state-of-the-art security
was so much hot air. The cameras on the guest
room floors are bogus. Dummies."
"What?" Steffi exclaimed.
"The only working camera in the entire complex is
in the accounting department. Pettijohn didn't want
anybody stealing from him, but I guess he didn't care
if his guests got robbed or bumped off. The joke's on
Smilow asked, "Why did the kid lie?"
"That's what he'd been told to do. By big bad Pettijohn
himself. We're not talking about a rocket scientist
here, so he held tough even after we assured
him that Pettijohn was dead and that the only thing he
had to fear was lying to us. He finally cracked. We
checked it out. The cameras are shills."
"How many people know that?"
"My guess would be not too many."
"Check it out. Start with people in managerial positions."
Addressing the group at large, Smilow said, "First
thing in the morning, we start on Pettijohn's enemies.
We'll compile a list--"
"Or we could save ourselves the trouble and just
use the phone book," one of the men quipped.
"Everybody I know will be glad the son of a bitch is
Smilow shot him a hard look.
"Oh, sorry," he mumbled, his smile vanishing. "I
forgot you two were kin."
"We weren't kin. He was married to my sister. For
a while. That's it. I probably had less liking for him
Steffi leaned forward. "You didn't pop him, did
Everyone laughed, but Smilow's terse, "No, I
didn't," spoken as though he'd taken her question
seriously, ended the laughter as abruptly as it had
"Excuse me, Mr. Smilow?"
Standing in the open doorway was Smitty. Smilow
checked his wristwatch. It was after midnight. "I
thought you'd be anxious to get home," he said to the
"They only just now told us we could go home,
"Oh, yeah." He hadn't thought of hotel fixtures
like Smitty being detained for long hours of questioning,
although he had mandated it himself. "Sorry
"Never mind, Mr. Smilow. I was just wonderin',
did anybody 'round here tell y'all about those folks
that were taken to the hospital yesterday?"
The capital letter E on the instrument panel of her
car flashed red.
She groaned with frustration. The last thing she
wanted to do was stop and pump gasoline, but she
knew from experience that when the gauge on this
car said empty, it was dangerously accurate.
Service stations were scarce on this stretch of rural
highway, so when she came upon one only a few
miles after seeing the warning light, she pulled in and
lethargically got out of her car.
Ordinarily when she pumped her own gas she paid
by credit card at the pump. But technology hadn't
stretched this far into the boonies. As a matter of
principle, she disliked having to pay in advance. So
she removed the nozzle from the pump and flipped
down the lever. She twisted off her gas cap and set it
on the roof of her car, inserted the nozzle in the tank,
then waved at the attendant in the booth, motioning
for him to engage the pump.
He was watching a wrestling match on his black
and white TV. She could barely see him through the
neon beer signs and the posters taped to the window
announcing outdated events and lost pets. Either he
noticed her or he was standing on his own
principle of not turning on the pump until the customer
paid in advance, especially after dark.
"Damn." She relented, walked to the office, and
slid a bill into the dirty tray beneath an even dirtier
"Twenty dollars' worth? Anything else?" he asked,
his eyes remaining glued to the TV screen.
The rate of flow was a trickle, but the pump finally
clicked off. She removed the nozzle and replaced it
on the pump. As she was reaching for the gas tank
cap, another car pulled off the road and into the station.
She was caught in the bright headlights and
squinted against the glare.
The car rolled to a stop only a few feet from her
rear bumper. The driver turned off the headlights but
didn't kill the engine before opening the door and
Her lips parted in wordless surprise. But she
didn't move or speak. She didn't berate him for following
her. Or demand to know why he had. Or insist
that he get lost and leave her alone. She didn't do
anything but look at him.
His hair looked darker now that the sun had gone
down, not as tawny as it appeared in daylight. She
knew his eyes were grayish blue, although now they
were deeply shadowed. One eyebrow was slightly
higher and more arched than the other, but this asymmetric
quirk added interest. His chin had a shallow
vertical cleft. He cast a long shadow because he was
tall. Weight would never be a problem; he didn't have
the frame to carry much extra poundage.
For several seconds they stared at each other
across the hood of his car, then he stepped around the
open door. Her eyes followed his progress as he came
toward her. The determination with which his jaw
was set said a lot about his character. He wasn't easily
discouraged, and he wasn't afraid to go after
something he wanted.
He didn't stop until he was standing directly in
front of her. Then he cupped her face between his
hands and lifted it toward his as he bent down and
And she thought, Oh, God.
His lips were full and sensual, and they delivered
what they suggested. His kiss was warm and sweet
and earnest. He applied the perfect amount of pressure,
leaving no question that she was being soundly
kissed, but without making her feel overpowered or
threatened. It was such a perfect kiss that her lips
parted naturally. When his tongue touched hers, her
heart expanded and her arms encircled his waist.
He lowered his hands, so that one arm was free to
go around her shoulders while the other curved to fit
the small of her back and to draw her against him
full-length. He angled his head. Hers made a countermove.
The kiss deepened, his tongue probing. The
longer they kissed, the more ardent it became.
Then suddenly he broke away. He was breathing
hard. His hands resumed their previous position on
either side of her face. "That's what I had to know. It
wasn't just me."
She shook her head as much as his hands would
allow it to move. "No," she said, surprised by the
huskiness of her own voice. "It wasn't just you."
Protests died on her lips before she could even
"I have a cabin not far from here. Two, three
"Don't say no." His whispered voice was ragged,
impassioned. His hands pressed tighter. "Don't say
Her eyes searched his, then she made a small, assenting
motion with her head. He released her immediately,